All over the world, for the past week and the next 3 weeks, Muslims are observing Ramadan. Ramadan is primarily known as a month of fasting, but beyond not eating or drinking during a 14+ hour window, the purpose is to spiritually reset.
With this month comes many posts on the Internet about how beneficial fasting is. Unfortunately, many of these are not based in science or a true understanding of physiology. I dive into some of these below.
Myth #1 – Exercising while fasting is better
I read a post recently that said Ramadan is the best time to start an exercise routine. I disagree and here’s why.
- Exercise, above all of its benefits, is first and foremost a stressor
- All stressors increase the body’s demand for energy.
- Energy = food.
- 14+ hours of fasting creates a significant energy deficit.
- Sleep deprivation that comes with Ramadan also creates a significant energy deficit.
- Increasing energy demands by introducing or continuing intense exercise creates an even larger deficit.
- Energy deficits are compensated for using stress hormones.
Adding exercise into the mix of food and sleep deprivation creates more chaos in our body because it becomes dependent on stress hormones to function. Chronic exposure to stress hormones, which are meant only to be used in emergency situations increases risk for many diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
It’s also important to keep in mind that for someone who has hypothyroidism or has functional hypothyroidism (low energy production), fasting can be disastrous and make it very difficult to rebuild metabolic health.
Ramadan is about slowing down and introspection (in my opinion). Exercise is not in the prescription. Let’s not make things harder for ourselves than they need to be. Certainly, Ramadan is a month of new habits. But there are plenty of habits we can work on that don’t require creating huge energy deficits and worsening our metabolic health, which many of us are already struggling with.
Myth #2 – Fasting helps the body detoxify
Detoxification is a big buzzword right now – especially with celery juicing making its rounds. But these recommendations for detoxification completely miss the mark. By miles. Because they are promoted by people who have no understanding of physiology or how the body detoxifies.
The liver is the primary organ responsible for neutralizing all different kinds of toxins and drugs. The liver requires a wide variety and significant amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates) to function properly. When we fast, we drastically reduce the amount of nutrition we get. Especially if we’re not mindful of packing a punch with the meals and snacks we consume after we break our fast. Fasting, especially on a continuous basis, is more likely to slow the liver down than to help it function better.
The other component of detoxification is the gut. Many neutralized toxins are excreted out of our body through pooping. When we fast, our gut slows down because the body tries to preserve all its energy for more important functions, like keeping the heart pumping and the brain fueled. This is why many people might experience constipation while fasting. A slower gut also means less toxins excreted, and even more reabsorption of toxins back into the bloodstream that were meant to be excreted.
To summarize, fasting actually slows down the detoxification process as opposed to enhancing it.
Myth #3 – Fasting is energizing
Many people tell me that they feel better when they’re fasting or more energized.
Yes, fasting can make you feel better or more energized, but this is not necessarily a good thing.
The single biggest threat to our body is low blood sugar. This is why it has multiple mechanisms in place to handle the dip in blood sugar. These include:
#1 – Liver stores of sugar
#2 – Stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which break down fat and muscle tissue to make sugar
When we fast, especially for long hours like during Ramadan, our body has no choice but to use stress hormones to regulate blood sugar. At least until we eat again. Stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, keep us alert and can make us feel wired. Which many of us easily confuse for being energized, especially if we have not learned how to understand the signs of high adrenaline.
The notion that fasting is energizing also conflicts with basic fundamentals of biology. In the body, the process of making energy, also known as ATP, requires several things:
- Nutrients, like vitamins and minerals
- Thyroid Hormone
Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are all negatively impacted when we fast or try low-calorie or low-carbohydrate diets.
Oxygen + Carbs + Nutrients + Thyroid Hormone = ATP (energy)
Fasting ➡️ elevates stress hormones, adrenaline & cortisol ➡️ false sense of energy.
What are some other myths you have heard about fasting? Drop me a comment and let me know!
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